The House approved a far-reaching police overhaul from Democrats on Thursday, a vote heavy with emotion and symbolism as a divided Congress struggles to address the global outcry over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gathered with members of the Congressional Black Caucus on the Capitol steps, challenging opponents not to allow the deaths to have been in vain or the outpouring of public support for changes to go unmatched. But the collapse of a Senate Republican bill leaves final legislation in doubt.
“Exactly one month ago, George Floyd spoke his final words — ‘I can’t breathe’ — and changed the course of history,” Pelosi said.
She said the Senate faces a choice “to honor George Floyd’s life or to do nothing.”
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is perhaps the most ambitious set of proposed changes to police procedures and accountability in decades. Backed by the nation’s leading civil rights groups, it aims to match the moment of demonstrations that filled streets across the nation. It has almost zero chance of becoming law.
On the eve of the vote, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration said he would veto the bill. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also said it would not pass the Republican-held chamber.
After the GOP policing bill stalled this week, blocked by Democrats, Trump shrugged.
“If nothing happens with it, it’s one of those things,” Trump said. “We have different philosophies.”
Congress is now at a familiar impasse despite protests outside their door and polling that shows Americans overwhelmingly want changes after the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others in interactions with law enforcement. The two parties are instead appealing to voters ahead of the fall election, which will determine control of the House, Senate and White House.
“We hear you. We see you. We are you,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., during the debate.
It has been a month since Floyd’s May 25 death sparked a global reckoning over police tactics and racial injustice. Since then, funeral services were held for Rayshard Brooks, a Black man shot and killed by police in Atlanta. Thursday is also what would have been the 18th birthday of Tamir Rice, a Black boy killed in Ohio in 2014.
Lawmakers who have been working from home during the COVID-19 crisis were summoned to the Capitol for an emotional, hours-long debate. Dozens voted by proxy under new pandemic rules.